A Call to Action
With more than a third of North American’s birds considered to be at risk of extinction without significant conservation action (State of North American Birds), we are in dire need of ways to evaluate the relative importance of habitats birds use throughout their annual life cycle. Simply knowing how individual birds use resources across a broad landscape remains one of the great limitations to bird conservation. We cannot address anthropogenic threats to birds, from climate change to habitat destruction, without knowledge of how individual birds use resources.
Connecting the Dots
Understanding connectedness of individual flight patterns across the landscape within an individual season, or between seasons, is inherently needed to interpret causes of population decline. Yet, once a bird leaves a focused study area, it is often lost to the researcher. Consider that fledgling success is due largely to what happens when birds leave the nesting area, where they go, how long they stay in another area to feed and molt new feathers, and then leave on migration. Or for resident birds, what variety of landscapes do they use throughout the winter? Simply tracking birds from one location to another will allow us to make important strides in numerous fields of avian ecology such as the ecology of stopover, post-fledging, pre-migratory, winter, and carry-over effects. Until recently however, we have been limited in our ability to track individual birds as they move across the landscape in the different phases of their lives.
Technological advances now permit radio frequency nano-tags, about the size of a grain of rice, to be attached to small-bodied birds. These tags emit a coded signal that identifies the individual and can be tracked by an automated sensor when an individual animal comes within a nine mile radius. A record of place and time is established without recapturing the bird. Collectively these sensors become a part of a scientific collaboration known as the Motus Wildlife Tracking Network. Motus radio telemetry technology has revolutionized the ability to collect data on individual birds.
Building a Network and Motus Research at PARC
At the Powdermill Avian Research Center, we are expanding this network throughout the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United states through the Northeast Motus collaboration. To date we have established 75 stations in the region and will establish an additional 25 before the end of 2020 with the support of a USFWS grant. We are utilizing the network to track long-term survival and migratory behavior of birds rehabilitated from window collisions, track winter habitat use and migration of Evening Grosbeaks, elucidate causes of Chimney Swift declines, and investigate carry-over effects for Swainson’s Thrushes.